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food / travel

The Traena Archipelago, Norway’s Best Guarded Secret

With their rugged mountains and jewel-like fishing ships, the Traena islands are Norway's dreamlike destination.

Stéphane Davet

Why should a traveller choose the small Traena archipelago rather than one of the other thousand or so islands in the Helgeland, this province of the northwest Norwegian Nordland, where the sea seen from high above resembles a constellation of rocks?

As the traveller moves north away from Norway's famous fiords, wonders abound at every step. The most common destinations are the island of Torget and its mountain pierced at its heart by a 75 meter deep cavity, the island of Lovund that is home every April to some 200,000 seabirds, or the Vega archipelago whose ecosystem was inscribed by UNESCO on the World Heritage List.

But take the time to make a four-hour ride aboard a ferry coming from Bodo, capital of Nordland, and take a glimpse of Traena's silhouette: you'll know that there's no other place you'd rather be. During our crossing from Bodo, we saw many other mountains floating on the waves, their black and grey rocks contrasting with almost fluorescent patches of green. But none of them evokes, as Traena's picks does, a whale's tail or an orca's teeth. The Traena islands are a northern replica of the Vietnamese Ha Long Bay, only crossed by the Arctic Circle.

If this minuscule territory of only 500 inhabitants, so isolated from Norway's big cities, is such a popular destination today among Scandinavian youths, it is largely thanks to a music event. Every early July, the Traena Festivalen gives rock lovers the opportunity to party for three days under the magic light of the Arctic summer.

But there's no need to revel to this kind of northern bacchanalia to enjoy the beautiful charm of the Traena archipelago. After having floated along a corridor of flat and monochrome islands, our boat docks in the small port of Husoy, whose sheds perched high up on piers and colorful wooden houses contrast with the mountains' dark romantic image. For the past 9,000 years, fishing has been the main economic activity of this island where archaeologists uncovered traces of human life dating back to the stone age, as well as bone fishhooks, which appear on the municipality's coat of arms.

Washed by the Gulf Stream, and relatively protected from the ruthless elements, fishing areas are one of the world's biggest pelagic reserves. The waters here are teeming with herrings and skrey, the delicious Arctic cod.

Most of the ship owners spend long hours restoring and pampering their ships, as if anxious to honor the instruments of an ancient activity. Certain sailing ships are so old that one might take them for Viking ships. In the port of Husoy or inside the small fiords surrounding the island, fishing trawlers dating back to the 1940s still roam about, their painted wooden hulls proudly shining under the sun. A former whaleboat called Vulkana now serves as a sauna ship. Other venerable aging little ships, such as Leif Pettersen" Skreien, offer to take visitors on sometimes miraculous fishing tours. Whether guests are worthy fishers or not, the captain serves them incredibly tasty pollock, cod, mackerel or halibut, accompanied by a vinegar court-bouillon and crusty pancakes.

The generous meal comes in handy for those who decide to climb the mountain and admire the view from above. Just a few miles away by sea from Husoy, the almost twin island of Sanna boasts three peaks; on top of one of these peaks a radar built during the cold war can still be seen.

But travellers wanting to reach the top of one of these green peaks must first go through what locals call the "tunnel of love," a 800-meter-long stretch dug inside the mountain. Here, the strength of the heart and muscles are tested by a 200-meter high climb in the dark. The experience is a true sensorial adventure, and efforts are rewarded at the end of the tunnel by the beauty of the view. On the right, the endless sea; on the left, a beach of white sand occupied by a few sheds, the string of small islands, and the impressive contour of the continent dotted by white glaciers.

Climbing back down with the help of a cable, the traveller is swallowed by abundant high grass and white flowers, before reaching the Kirkehellern cave. Inside this enormous, cathedral-like cavity, opening towards the sea, the ancestral Vikings used to take shelter, musicians sang and legends were told. And today the modern traveller can meditate on the grandeur contained by such a small island.

Useful information:

A ferry will take you from Bodo to Husoy in four hours.

Where to stay: The Traena Rorbuferie in Husoy, fisherman's cabins with prices starting from 600 crowns (112 dollars). Tel: 00-47-750-95-380.

Where to eat: Traena Rorbuferie, open all year around; Traena Skysstrasjon, during the summer. Tel: 00-47- 977-02-641.

The Traena Festivalen takes place every July.

Read the original article in French.

Photo - eirikny

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